The whole package: sustainable, ethical skincare from L’oil

The L’oil balms brand is created by Kelly Dorgan in her home in Beckenham, Christchurch, which she shares with her artist partner and their two teenagers. Their property (which they have dubbed Birdwood Studios) is a bit of a creative hive with music, dance, food and art being crafted there daily. Kelly works part time as a community midwife specialising in supporting women who wish to birth at home or in a birthing unit.

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What do you make?
A range of vegan, organic, zero waste skin and lip balms. Body, face and lip moisturising bars made from plant-based, organic ingredients presented in biodegradable kraft card push up tubes; and healing and mend balms presented in biodegradable, plant-wax-lined, kraft card pots. All scented with organic and therapeutic grade pure essential oils, chosen for their therapeutic properties.

How did you get into your craft?
Through frustration. I just wanted the market to offer really ethical products that allowed those who were wanting to live a zero-waste, vegan lifestyle the option of still being able to pamper themselves, without having to purchase packaging that outlasts the products by a thousand years, wreaking havoc that whole time. I gifted some home made lip balm, body balm and food wraps to my treasured midwifery colleagues for Christmas one year and after receiving great feedback, I thought that these could be great products to offer to a wider audience.

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I studied herbal medicine for two years prior to beginning my midwifery degree and also have a diploma in te reo Māori. Therefore in regard to formal trainings specifically in my craft? No. However, I believe any education acts to open the mind and expand its creativity and therefore, I see these formal qualifications as having had a significant input.

I [wanted] to offer really ethical products that allowed those who were wanting to live a zero-waste, vegan lifestyle the option of still being able to pamper themselves, without having to purchase packaging that outlasts the products by a thousand years.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I love many of the processes involved. Tweaking formulas and scents in search of the “YES!” moment when I know a formula ticks all of the boxes is pretty exciting. Photography is a great passion of mine and therefore photographing the products with favourite “props” to highlight their purity and their potential to nurture is highly satisfying. Working with such organic ingredients means the brand is timeless and natural and I love to find ways to create that aesthetic.

Tell us about the techniques involved in producing one of your products
I do a lot of online research to develop a starter formula and work from there to tweak and improve. This usually involves weeks of trials of very small amounts of products and copious notes to self suggesting tweaks, as well as forcing them on friends and family and requesting feedback. The trickiest thing has been converting beeswax-based formulas to plant-wax-based ones in order to create cruelty-free products, as plant waxes are quite different from beeswax and there is not so much information out there on plant-wax formulas.

Once I am happy with the base formula, I start working on which essential oils I want to add, choosing them first and foremost for their therapeutic properties rather than their smell. Having narrowed the range down to a few choices, scent then becomes the decider. The next step is making larger quantities, pouring them into tubes and pots before then labelling them by hand.

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What inspires you?
Ultimately I am inspired by nature and the desire to support the processes and forces that support and nurture all helpful living organisms (i.e. not so much the scary viruses and bacteria – although I do have a healthy respect for these “nasties” as I believe nature is always seeking balance and that every living organism has a role to play in this).

I am also loving being in a space with others who are in business because they are really wanting to get the right messages out there – not because they want to make a whole lot of money selling their stuff that ultimately costs everyone, forever!

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
You probably have a sense of this already. My philosophy is about staying L’oil (loyal) to nature’s rhythms and laws. I want to provide an invitation to purchase products that are beautiful to use, but that also engage consumers in being conscious about what their dollars are capable of protecting or harming.

Describe your creative process:
I walk along the riverbank every morning, practice mindfulness for 10 minutes a day, carry a notebook wherever I go and carry my camera wherever is practical. Beyond that, staying open and curious allows the ideas to constantly flow. It is important to me that I stay somewhat relaxed about not having specific regular time available to work on the products. I find being on call is the best cure for procrastination, as I never quite know when the next available moment will be, and thus have to make the most of every moment, surrendering to time’s flow.


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Describe your workspace:
Opportunistic! I share our 86m2 home with my partner and our two teenagers. Fortunately we have 60sq m of studio/sleep out space although that is taken up by my Hamish’s art studio and Flyn’s music studio/bedroom. L’oil therefore occupies one shelf in the living room cupboard, a corner of the dining room, one shelf in the pantry, and the kitchen during school/work hours (though not at lunch times as someone invariably needs it then). I feel some negotiation will be required soon!

Five words that describe your mind:
Inquisitive, focused, idealistic, non-stop and slightly disorganised.

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
“Would you like to see before and after photos of my eczema?”
“This is the best lip balm I have ever used”.

What are you currently listening to?
If I have control of the airspace, it is likely to be something calm, dreamy and loud. In the past few years Tiny Ruins, Nicole Reynolds, Laura Gibson and Aldous Harding have featured regularly. If it is our 15-year-old deciding, it is likely to be something a bit more upbeat – The Shins, Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys or Lana Del Ray (yep, could be a lot worse!). Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Billy Bragg tend to keep everyone happy.

L’oil… occupies one shelf in the living room cupboard, a corner of the dining room, one shelf in the pantry, and the kitchen during school/work hours… I feel some negotiation will be required soon!

Recommend an album:
We are all pretty impressed with Lorde’s latest album Melodrama (especially the singles “Liability” and “Writer in the Dark”), and Aldous Harding’s latest offering Party. We are really looking forward to Tiny Ruins’ new album in the next few months. However, to check out something a bit less well-known, try Laura Gibson’s If You Come to Greet Me from 2006, for something that truly competes with the beauty of silence.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
Books don’t feature a great deal in my early childhood memories. All I remember is Dick Bruna’s Miffy, after which my childhood family cat was named.

We studied To Kill A Mockingbird in the fourth form – since which time the themes of prejudice and inequality have not left my thoughts for long. As a teenager babysitting, I remember loving reading Mrs Armitage on Wheels by Quentin Blake, which highlights the potential pitfalls of human “resourcefulness” and the myth that is “progress”.

We currently have a great collection of – largely New Zealand – children’s books (quite a few in Te Reo Māori) that I love too much to part with even though the “children” no longer read them. I so adore the combination of narrative and art in a format that nurtured our young family for years and created a sense of shared experience, connection and “hygge” – a word we knew nothing of at the time. There really is nothing like snuggling on the sofa with a child or children to share a picture book, and keeping these books on the shelf keeps those memories alive.

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What are you reading now?
I have just finished reading Lance O’Sullivan’s The Good Doctor with my book club. Whilst it presented little new to me (given I have been working in public health for the last decade and a half) I do think the messages about indigenous health and the systems that create significant ethnic inequities need incessant highlighting. It is always a shame that it takes the colonised to try and spread these messages when the damage has been done and continues to be done (usually completely unintentionally) by the colonisers. Implicit bias is a subject I find really interesting. I am currently reading The Power by Naomi Alderman which is a rather intriguing exploration of how the world might look should girls be deadly powerful.

Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
I don’t really have a literary hero/ine but my real life heroine/shero is my friend Sharon Thompson. She is the most divine woman who is a volunteer stillbirth photographer bringing a little bit of light to the darkest of hearts, and creating the most meaningful memories for families in these heartbreaking situations. She also spends a significant amount of time volunteering in an orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, that is full of children affected by agent orange, whose families cannot care for them. There, she brings light, laughter, dance, music, flowers and bubbles to the children who otherwise live in under-resourced, forgotten institutions. She is one of those rare human treasures that you know you will not encounter the likes of more than once in a life time.

A favourite quote:
“Kindness matters” and “Cloak of love” are the quotes that always comes to mind when I think of Sharon.

However, I also love the following quote for its quirkiness (I mean, who ever says they want a new battery charger for Christmas?). It is by a beautiful singer-songwriter (mentioned above) who is also an organic farmer:

“I would like to encourage everyone to make something
for the (Christmas) holidays –
carve a spoon, knit a glove, paint a picture, draw a cartoon,
write a poem, save your seeds and give them out as gifts –
put a little thought into your friends and family, even if they
don’t give a shit and just want money or a new battery charger.”

– Nicole Reynolds

Tell us about your pets:
We have a few thousand bees and possibly the same amount of worms. We are lucky to have a pretty regular stream of “birds in residence” as our property is planted largely in natives. In winters past we have been visited daily for weeks on end by a family of kereru and a kakariki; and this year pīwakawaka are pretty reliable visitors. We may have more winged visitors if it weren’t for our property also being home to one grey moggy – Rita (named after the artist Rita Angus).


If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
Well, I think my superpower would have to be converting all plastic into a benign, biodegradable, plant based material. A name ? – “L’OIL IVY” perhaps?

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Keep it simple, focus on relationships (not sales), keep it plastic-free, and stay “L’oil” – to yourself, to your loved ones, and to nature.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I recently purchased a set of gorgeous wooden bowls created from a magnolia tree from Dean’s Bush in Riccarton, Christchurch, that needed to be felled. They were crafted by Greg Morris, whom I have known from when we had neighbouring stalls at the Arts Centre Market many years ago. They have been turned with the bark still intact; and with their understated ashy tones, I love using them in my product photos and just leaving them lay about out on our coffee table “between shoots”.

Also, I have very little jewellery, but that I do have has been carefully chosen and beautifully hand crafted. My favourites are my Deborah Fellowfield silver and turquoise ring, a Monique Connell silver and copper castle pendant and a gorgeous pair of pounamu and copper earrings made by Fiona of Brightonmine (a fellow Felt seller). All made in the South Island and all of which I have had for a number of years.

I am… loving being in a space with others who are in business because they are really wanting to get the right messages out there.



What’s in store for the rest of 2017?
For L’oil – a new scent range and hopefully a stick deodorant (which has been a long time in the R&D phase). Some new body butter scents and perhaps a belly balm (for pregnancy). Hair and beard balms are also in development.

For me personally – a few glorious home births are in store before I take a break from community midwifery and from being on call (which has been my life for the last 14 years). I am curious and excited about what this will make space for – hoping it will be in the somewhere close to the community action/zero-waste buzz.

Prize draw!
Kelly has generously offered a great prize for one lucky Felt reader of a luscious L’oil gift set of a body balm, a face balm, a lip balm and a mend balm (with a value of $85 + P&P). All L’oil products are carefully handcrafted from vegan and largely organic ingredients. Consideration for human, animal and environmental health has been taken in every step of the creation of L’oil products, which are free from synthetic or animal-based ingredients, and are fully biodegradable.

To be in to win this indulgent prize, simply leave a comment letting Kelly know (a) what you loved about her story and (b) what product(s) you’d like to see added to her range. The draw will be made on Friday 11 August and is open to New Zealand residents only.


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16 thoughts on “The whole package: sustainable, ethical skincare from L’oil

  1. Loved reading about your commitment to small batch conscious consumables – will be trying some! Thanks for sharing some of your favourite things and people – very inspiring. Looking forward to trying some scents that you mentioned adding – bothers me that most scents are not only made overseas but aren’t good for me or the environment.

  2. What a wonderful inspirational read! I love the thought, time and consideration that had gone into your products. I would love to see the deoderant come out. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I love hearing about parents of teens who are living their own truth. Both of my children were born at home, so anytime a homebirth midwife is highlighted anywhere I feel all warm and fuzzy. You change lives! You empower women and their whanau! I really like hearing about ‘life after midwifery’ as I am aware from friends and midwives I know that it is a demanding space to occupy. To still be contributing to the beauty and goodness of women and the planet is just lovely. I would love to see a natural foot balm developed – I’ve always had cracked heels an would love to get away from chemist products. Thanks again for sharing your story.

  4. Yes! Locally made natural skincare. The ode to nature, packaging, ingredients as well as the aroha and integrity that go into making these products is inspiring.

  5. I love the idea that you can set up a business from home doing what you love doing – Would love to see deodorant please next on your products list.

  6. So good to read about your journey Kelly, I admire your work and your effort to create vegan and plastic free. What should be the easiest of ways for us to package our work, is in fact so challenging to find answers to that work well. Thanks for the feedback on the earrings too.

  7. Wow, what you have created is really amazing, and I love the packaging. It’s really hard to create a product that works but is still made from 100% natural ingredients.
    You are an inspiration to the rest of us to not give up on natural skin care. And I wish you success in creating deodorant, can’t wait to see how you do that!

  8. Loved reading about what you get up to when you aren’t being a wonderful midwife! What an awesome idea to have a natural product in waste free packaging. I look forward to trying some of those delicious scent combinations. A hand cream would be lovely to include in your range.

  9. So inspiring to read how you have managed to capture such natural goodies which all sound divine, and with such special attention to the packaging, in what seems to be a bit of an overcrowded and shared space ! Love what you have achieved, and your strong following of your beliefs.
    Thank you for including your thoughts and video about Sharon Thompson, what a treasure.
    Would love to see some hair products.

  10. Brilliance in beauty products. Beautiful ethos and inspiration. Adore your lip balm – my son and I both – we appreciate every detail of the handcrafted packaging and celebrate each slathering of balm. Look forward to the new scents and would love to see a gentle cleanser in times to come…

  11. How inspiring to read of someone who literally lives just round the corner from me – and yet I didn’t know existed until now. I think I’ve found some Christmas presents here.
    Kelly, I am delighted to see natural products in zero-waste packaging. I think NZ needs to think hard about it’s waste strategy and management, and you are making it easier for people to start that conversation.
    I’d love to see a cleanser or perhaps a balm for making feet soft and lovely.

  12. Hi Kelly. I’ve loved reading your story. I too am a part time midwife in the community. What inspires me about your story is the direction and energy you have now given to another part of your life, and it has made me think harder about how I can utilise my “spare” time to actually commit to more creativity in my life. Screenprinting is my thing but somehow I’ve accidentally let it slip away. I know this is getting away from skincare a little, but I’d love to see a lipstick… since you already make delicious sounding lip balms, maybe something that feels great on your lips and with a little punch of colour. Thanks!

  13. From start to finish its clear you have found your passion…well done and how inspiring you are to others. I love the piece about your creations taking up shelves, rooms and pantry space… hee hee, its the same in my house. Good luck with your negotiations.

  14. Thank you so much Kelly, for sharing your inspiring story! What an interesting and enjoyable read – I loved every part of it! I look forward to trying some of your beautiful products 🙂 I would love to see a foot balm to help heal cracked heels in your range.

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